New Mexico has the largest number, range of ages, diversity of types, and range of preservation, and some of the best type examples of volcanoes in the North American continent. Volcanoes are concentrated in one place in New Mexico - like a museum - with exotic southwestern mesas and landscapes thrown in for visual relief. These pages represent a small part of the museum "volcano collection" that is the landscape of New Mexico.
Will there be another eruption? The region remains tectonically active and continued volcanic eruptions separated by significant intervals (100s to 1000s of years) is likely.
When will the next eruption occur? Geologically soon.
(also known as "the Land of Volcanoes")
Each of the Southwestern states can be categorized according to their apparent geologic specialty. Arizona is the big Canyon state, Utah is the Mesozoic fauna state, and Colorado is the big snow-capped Rocky Mountains state. So what then is New Mexico? New Mexicans need only look out their windows for the answer: New Mexico is the Volcano state. New Mexico has one of the greatest concentrations of young, well-exposed, and uneroded volcanoes on the continent. And as a bonus, it is also the Rift Valley state; it has one of only four or five big continental rifts in the world, East Africa being one of the other ones. The fact is, New Mexico is one of the best places to study the natural history of volcanoes.
Here are just a few facts to consider:
Volcanism in New Mexico is not "extinct," but is dormant. The record of volcanism in New Mexico is continuous over tens of millions of years, and there is no reason to think it stopped magically 3000 years ago with the eruption of several cubic kilometers of basalt (McCartys lava flow, El Malpais). New Mexico has one of only three large mid-crustal active magma bodies (Socorro) in the continent. (The others are Long Valley, California and Yellowstone, Wyoming.) The Socorro area is one of the few areas where there is a dearth of young volcanoes, so perhaps the Rift is working on filling out its volcano landscaping.
The collection of volcanoes in New Mexico is exceptional. In most parts of the world people are so far removed from any volcano that they must travel many days or fly in and out at great cost. In New Mexico, you can get up in the morning, eat breakfast at the kitchen table, put on your field clothes, and be standing on a world-class example of some volcanic feature by early morning; or you need only look out the window to see at least one of those world-class examples on the horizon; or in only a few minutes you can go stand on one of the best young examples of a fissure eruption (Albuquerque Volcanoes), a cluster of maar craters (Potrillo), or the largest young caldera in the world (Valles Caldera).
The climate of New Mexico favors preservation of volcanologic features. Whereas most other volcanic areas on the continent are extensively "water-damaged," New Mexico is a giant air-conditioned museum of volcanic phenomena preservation. Even those volcanoes that are eroded are really only deeply cut, not weathered, and the surface features are still intact for examination. In New Mexico you may truly walk through the interior of many volcanoes and still examine their relatively uneroded surface features.
Every major type of volcanic landform (composite volcano, shield volcano, volcanic caldera, major ash-flows, pahoehoe and aa lava, maar crater, fissure eruptions, cinder cones) occurs in New Mexico. Also consider the fact that volcanic phenomena tend to concentrate in two of the three types of plate boundaries (subduction zones, transform boundaries, and rifting boundaries. Transform boundaries, such as Southern California, tend not to have volcanoes. Subduction zones are the site of the big, explosive composite volcanoes, such as those around the Pacific Ring of Fire. Then there are rifting boundaries. The mid-ocean ridges, Iceland, and East Africa come to mind. But they are rare on dry land. New Mexico is one of those rare places.
Kilimanjaro may be more spectacular than Mount Taylor, or Hawaii more active than New Mexico, but those are just particularly big and hard-to-miss, and isolated, examples of volcanoes. In the final analysis, it is uniqueness and diversity that is really New Mexico's specialty, certainly in culture, but also in natural history. "Big" is not necessarily the point, nor is it always the best reference example.
—Dr. Larry Crumpler
New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science
New Mexico Volcano Directory
A map of volcanoes and volcanic features around the state, with detailed discussion of each site.
Albuquerque Basin Volcanic Field :Ten volcanos in the broader Albuquerque area.
Volcanoes of New Mexico
Return to the introduction
Informative summaries discussing many of the volcanic areas in New Mexico can be found in:
C. A. Wood and J. Kienle. eds., 1990, Volcanoes of North America, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Information on the National Monuments related to volcanoes in New Mexico may be found at:
Volcanoes of the U.S. National Parks.